6a- Introducing your Research

Often, stu­dents begin the writ­ing process with­out ever think­ing about a poten­tial audi­ence.  The focus is only on com­ple­tion of the task, the craft­ing of a piece of writ­ing that ful­fills the require­ments of the assign­ment.  Whether or not the piece is inter­est­ing or acces­si­ble is often beyond con­sid­er­a­tion.  This makes a kind of sense giv­en that most all essays for class are only read by the instruc­tor and, often, what­ev­er a stu­dents may be writ­ing about has already been writ­ten about many times before.  The impact of the writ­ing is lim­it­ed and, there­fore, only under­stood in a very nar­row sense: what I need to do in order to achieve in this class.

Cer­tain­ly, you have a sim­i­lar goal here: writ­ing what you need to in order to achieve in this class at the lev­el you desire.  How­ev­er, the authors of this text also know that stu­dents become more engaged with their writ­ing, more invest­ed in the craft­ing of prose, when they believe that their words are rel­e­vant.  Our goal is to have each stu­dent treat this project as if it mat­ters not only to them­selves, but to a larg­er aca­d­e­m­ic con­ver­sa­tion.  The idea is that your writ­ing should mat­ter so much that you work to engage the read­er from the very begin­ning, using evoca­tive, thought­ful prose in order to cre­ate a vis­cer­al con­nec­tion between the read­er and the audi­ence.  Hav­ing writ­ing mat­ter just because it might reach a huge audi­ence is often beside the point.  Much of what is writ­ten in acad­e­mia has a lim­it­ed audi­ence at best.  But the pow­er and point of a piece can res­onate far beyond the page when the author con­nects with the mate­r­i­al and works to inspire any­one who may read the text to engage with the text, to par­tic­i­pate in con­ver­sa­tion and think about how these ideas impact knowledge.

The actu­al craft­ing of prose—conscious writing—depends upon feel­ing inter­est­ed in and con­nect­ed with the research focus. This is why you began this process with a per­son­al con­nec­tion to your research site. In addi­tion, par­tic­i­pant-obser­va­tion and the writ­ing of field­notes cre­ates a bod­i­ly rela­tion­ship with the research process and invites you to begin writ­ing about you research project in a focused way long before the first draft of their essay is due.  These aspects of the ethno­graph­ic writ­ing process make involve­ment accessible.

Rather than think­ing about your intro­duc­tion in the shape of a fun­nel, work­ing toward a the­sis state­ment, con­sid­er what it would mean to real­ly get the read­er hooked.   What if your intro­duc­tion were a kind of “open­ing scene” for your essay?  Think about how an open­ing scene of a film sets the tone for whole movie —-the col­ors, the tex­ture, the music, the char­ac­ter details. The intro­duc­tion to your essay is your open­ing scene and it pro­vides room for you to write in a more open and cre­ative style than you may think is usu­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with “aca­d­e­m­ic” writ­ing.  Use this first bit of writ­ing to make your research come alive and pre­pare your read­ers for what you will share with them in the rest of the essay.

You have done quite a bit of reread­ing of your field­notes to get to this point in the devel­op­ment of your essay, but as you build your intro­duc­tion, return to your field­notes once again. This time, as you read through your notes, look for a par­tic­u­lar moment, event, or idea that con­nects to your focus. Is there a par­tic­u­lar com­pelling detailed moment or can you pull togeth­er a com­pi­la­tion of detailed moments to set the scene for your essay?  Your goal in the intro­duc­tion is to reach out to your read­ers, to pull them into the expe­ri­ence of your site, and to make them want to know more about it.

Work from your field­notes to re-make a sto­ry, to turn it into a cre­ative piece of non­fic­tion as a way of engag­ing the reader.